Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bye Mzungu

Last night, before I boarded the plane to Entebbe, I met the head of a large Ugandan children’s organization, she inherited it from her mother and was happily moving to England, and leaving the organization to someone else. She warned me not to trust any Ugandans, she said they will tell you any sob story to get your sympathy, and scam you. I appreciated the warning, but I wish she would have said “don’t trust any Ugandan“ , it would be more appropriate to say “don’t trust anyone who asks you for things.” or “don’t give anyone anything.”

I got on the flight and sat next to a prominent grandpa and grandma type. It was not as comfortable as the first class experience I had the night before, I had a hard time sleeping. At one point I got up to go to the bathroom, and the grandma had put her bag under my seat and her bouquet of flowers on my seat. When I returned instead of a “oops, sorry” she asked me if that was my purse under the seat. She was quite the princess. I saw a yellow card on the floor and picked it up and handed it to her. She said to me “Moh” I said “huh?” and she pointed to the ground and said “Moh!” There was another one on the ground, I guess it was my job to pick it up for her too, since I picked up the first one.

I got off the plane and the climate and vegetation were different. There were a dozen people waiting at the bottom of the steps as we got off the plane. There was also a marching band standing a ways away, but not in lines or playing anything, they looked like they could be military. After I bought my visa there were two lines, one if you had something to declare, one if you didn’t. The one that didn’t went straight out the door. Jennifer and Roger were waiting for me in the crowd. Jennifer looked skinny and tan, Roger was much younger than I expected, I expected the leader of an organization to be in their 40’s.

We took a hired car to an office of a Japanese Buddhist’s office where we left our stuff, and then we walked around the streets of Kampala. Kampala is scary as hell. These big taxi vans and motorcycles go barreling through the streets at crazy speeds, and there doesn’t seem to be any road rules, at all. If you step in front of a taxi, it will hit you.

We went to the grocery store with no A/C and got supplies, and then we went to “Peace” restaurant where we met “Mama” who greeted Jennifer with a huge hug where she buried Jennifer’s head in her bosom, and gave me a big welcome hug when she met me. While there I ate Posho, (corn meal) matooke, (banana paste) a turkey leg, rice, chapati (flat bread) and peas. It was all very good food. We alo drank “mirinda fruity” a grape-y soda.

After lunch I was in for the scare of my life. We got on boda-bodas, (motorcycle taxis) and wove through the fast, twisting traffic, at one point actually getting in between two idling taxis, one in front of the other, but we made it back to the office alive. Then we went off to the bus to Lytonde. We walked while Roger took two huge suitcases on a boda-boda. While waiting for the bus we bought a Luganda-English book. We had a lot of fun asking people who wanted to buy things “Oli Mulalu?” “Are you mad?”

We sat on the bus for an hour or so. I took picture after picture, which turned out very professional looking. Some of them are very haphazardly framed, but that actually captures the energy of the city. We got off the bus in Lyantonde and in seconds little children started saying “Mzungu!” and waving. Mzungu means white, and the children seem to see us as some sort of celebrities. As we walk down the street we can hear “Mzungu!” or “Bye Mzungu” (meaning hi) I think it’s adorable, but Jennifer, having lived here for two months, seems tired of it.

The room she stays in is very nice. I was expecting a mut hut in the field, but this has a locking door inside a courtyard with a shared hole in the cement floor around the corner for a bathroom. We played with some kids at the beginning, one which has an infection in his eyes that his mom can get fixed for free, but hasn’t, and he will go blind if she doesn’t. We walked around the area for awhile and then returned to the room. Suddenly we hear “Geev me my bohttle” over and over under the door. “Geev me my bohttle” “Geev me my bohttle” over and over. It was one of the girl we were playing with earlier. There was a water bottle on the windowsill, Jennifer figures she was practicing her English.
In the evening we walked, through the pitch black streets, to a little restaurant where we had beer and pork skewers with cassava, tomatoes, and avacado. I wore a dress that Jennifer had custom made for $12, but was way to big for her.

The weird thing is this whole time, whether in London or Uganda, I haven’t felt I was somewhere foreign. It’s just streets with people. In Africa they happen to mostly be black, and the sanitary conditions are not as nice as they are for us (or safety conditions, I saw a mom with a baby on a boda-boda- no helmets) But it’s just people.

Maybe I need more sleep, who knows. Or maybe I have something figured out. Maybe I am right to not see things as exotic, but to recognize our similarities, the only differences being our environments. Who knows. All I know is I am tired. I did a lot of living today.

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